Extremist groups 'very much alive' in Iraq, U.S. Special Forces official says
BAGHDAD -- On the eve of the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, extremist groups "are very much alive," according to the U.S. Special Forces commander here.
Though weakened by the deaths of top leaders and a drop-off in foreign funding, al-Qaeda in Iraq's "cellular structure" remains "pretty much intact," Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Higgins said in his first interview since taking command in Baghdad last fall.
Members of al-Qaeda in Iraq have increasingly resorted to kidnapping and extortion to stay afloat, the general said.
"The line between terrorism and criminality has blurred so much that some of these guys are just outsourcing," Higgins said Saturday. "We've seen indications that some of these guys for a price will put together a [roadside bomb] or do an assassination."
Although al-Qaeda in Iraq no longer appears capable of carrying out the type of massive bombings that targeted prominent government buildings last year, the Sunni extremist organization and other groups continue to conduct attacks almost daily.
On Sunday, at least seven people were killed in the western province of Anbar in a bombing that targeted a police convoy, Iraqi officials said, the latest in a recent string of attacks on police officers.
A day earlier, at least 43 people were killed in two bombings in the southern city of Basra.
Ameen Ali, a 24-year-old college student who witnessed the Basra attack, said residents were furious because they think security forces are more concerned with quelling protests over electricity shortages than pursing insurgents.
"Now when I think of what happened, I say to myself: Why should I love or stay in this country?" he said.
The recent violence has complicated a period of political uncertainty, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his chief rival in the March 7 parliamentary elections, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, fight over who is entitled to form the next government.
Higgins predicted that Iraqi officials would ultimately form a representative government "in their own Iraqi way, on their own Iraqi timeline."
But he said the attacks during this period have the potential to be particularly destabilizing.